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A clash of visions

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Throughout my time in Winnipeg, I have watched the painful, emotional debate over how best to restore the glory to Winnipeg's core. I find it fascinating that each time a new proposal arrives - whether it was the Forks/North Portage Development, the MTS Centre or now the debate over a football stadium for Point Douglas - there is such an intense disagreement about how to proceed. And this clash of visions is quite evident in the blogging community.The blogging reactions have varied from the reasonably balanced approach of our friends at Policy Frog who seem to engage on all sides of the issue with a somewhat positive although cautious analysis.The reaction at Rise and Sprawl challenges the very underpinnings of the Asper proposal for Point Douglas and suggests strongly that the community that exists there now is evolved enough and successful enough to be left as is. R&S is joined in this view, albeit in less elegant form, by the young Turks at Progressive Winnipeg who seem to have sipped from the Black-Rod-conspiracies-R-us kool-aid once too often.I personally like the Point Douglas plan, but like many of the above commentators, I have my concerns and a small list of prerequisites I'd like to see respected. Mostly, I'd like to see a decision that tries to accomplish as much good as humanly possible while remembering that someone (can you say Jordan Van Sewall?) is going to be upset about what you do.As was the case in the debate over the demolition of the Eaton's building to erect the MTS Centre, and the battle over Upper Fort Garry, there is a profound difference of opinion about whether downtown should be left to its own evolutionary pace, or whether progress should be allowed to run rampant. Rise and Sprawl makes the case that Point Douglas is already a community that has evolved into its final form, one that doesn't require a "fix." On that point, I will humbly disagree.I spent a fair bit of time in Point Douglas recently to pen a piece for the dead-tree paper, and think this is an interesting but somewhat inaccurate portrayal of the area. Yes, it has its charming areas, and colourful residents. There are many artists and reclusive older urban professionals who dig the unpolished beauty of the area. But the artist’s enclaves that R&S celebrates do not outnumber the crack and flop houses.Yes, Point Douglas features artists and those who wish to escape the pressures of urban, suburban, and ex-urban sprawl. But it is also a community without a deep foundation. One of the driving demographic forces that created the blight and crime in North Point Douglas was the slow expiration of the older immigrant families that helped to build the once grand Point Douglas. As these older families left, or died off, the dilapidated housing stock fell into the hands of slum landlords, who rented to mostly transient tenants who have no interest in maintaining the properties but a keen taste for illegal drugs. While there are small pockets of stability in both North and South Point Douglas, this overarching trend needs to be addressed. The North Point Douglas residents committee has done good work clawing back their part of the community from the undesirables but what of the future?I am unsure whether the Asper plan "fixes" the community, or simply eradicates it once and for all. I am more convinced that in its current form, and without any new development in the area, Point Douglas will likely one day end up in the hands of slum landlords, transients and crack dealers.As for the historic or architectural importance of the buildings in the area, I will defer to the more knowledgeable analysis at R&S, a site that has become a definitive source on such matters. (Ooops, I'm kissing up again!) My list of prerequisites includes a mix of old and new, with special effort made to save any building of character or historical importance. I have been told by David Asper that he intends to do just that. The proof will be in the final land-use details.The debate here seems will focus on two main options.First, leave Point Douglas as is and hope that the good work down by people like NPDRC honcho Sel Burrows will continue to hold the slum lords and crack dealers at bay. Or, turn this historically significant neighbourhood over to a commercial developer, albeit one that comes from a family that has, I believe, put its money where its mouth is in terms of improving Winnipeg.I know there are some out there in the blogosphere who live and breathe conspiracy theories about who will ultimately profit from this grand development. I'm focusing on an entirely different question: Can something be good even if it's not altruistic? Or, more accurately, does it matter that someone makes money developing Point Douglas if it brings people to visit or even live downtown?Stay tuned all, this is going to be a dandy.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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